Despite neighborhood concerns about increased traffic and other impacts, the Santa Fe City Council approved a rezoning request Wednesday that allows the construction of 32 two-story lofts near the intersection of West Alameda Street and Calle Nopal.

The council voted 7-2 to approve the rezoning of the 4.25-acre property, which slopes down from West Alameda to the Santa Fe River. Councilors Patti Bushee and Signe Lindell voted in opposition.

“Almost every project that we see is looking for a little more zoning — sometimes a lot more zoning — and it just doesn’t seem like we ever see a project come in front of us that the property as it sits, as it’s purchased, is developed that way,” Lindell said before the vote.

“It always seems to be a little more reach, and it’s frustrating to me that that continuously happens,” she said.

The developers, Rick Brenner and Rachel Watson, have not yet determined whether the lofts will be rentals or put up for sale. But as part of its approval, the council added a condition that the six lofts classified as “affordable dwelling units” be sold rather than rented.

Residents said they supported development of the site but not the rezoning from R-5 to R-7, which allows the developers to build an additional nine units. The change conforms with the city’s General Plan for the area. City staff had recommended approval of the rezoning with conditions, including public access to the River Trail, a nonmotorized path that extends along the Santa Fe River.

Nancy Fay, who lives on Mesilla Road, said the proposed project, called the River Trail Lofts, is “out of scale with the surrounding” zoning, which city planners said is primarily R-5, or five dwelling units per acre.

“The increased traffic at an already risky intersection on our narrow, twisty turning, blind-curve two-lane road with limited sight distance would compromise our safety, and the proposed multi-story buildings imposed on this semi-rural neighborhood would obliterate the solar gain rights and disrupt the character and quality of our quiet, established river corridor neighborhood,” she said.

Councilor Peter Ives made a so-called friendly amendment to reorient the buildings, but the maker of the motion to approve the rezoning, Councilor Chris Rivera, didn’t accept Ives’ proposal.

The council also voted to approve the preliminary development plan for the site. The Planning Commission will review a future application for a final development plan.

The public hearing on the proposed rezoning drew 18 speakers, many of whom asked the council to deny the new zoning.

The Rev. Talitha Arnold, pastor of the United Church of Santa Fe, said she has worked on affordable housing issues in Santa Fe for nearly three decades.

“The rezoning to R-7 would only result in two affordable units but seven more market value houses for the developer,” she said in an email after the vote. “That makes the ‘affordable’ argument specious.”

Annie Haven McDonnell, who lives on Calle Don Jose, said she bought her first home in the neighborhood partly because there was a “big field” behind the property and a “sense of space and quiet.”

“This would fundamentally change our quality of life,” she said.

While urging the council to deny the higher housing density, McDonnell conceded that change was bound to happen.

“It’s not going to be stopped,” she said. “We’re on the big train of more development everywhere.”

Contact Daniel J. Chacón at 986-3089 or dchacon@sfnewmexican.com. Follow him on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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(5) comments

Rod Lievano

Here we go again.

Pierce Knolls

This city council never met an unpopular zoning change it didn't like.

Carmen M

Mayor Gonzales announced that each citizen at the public hearing would be permitted ONE MINUTE to address the council.
The very first speaker, Rev Arnold, spoke for over two minutes without interruption, ignoring the bell.
The Mayor said, "You got two minutes because you're the reverend and I couldn't say no to you." Then admonished the rest to keep comments to one minute.

He always seeks to deflect criticism by stating they can submit their full comments in writing, as if that stack of sincere pleas will actually be read and considered after the vote.

The Mayor had asked the attorney for River Trail Lofts, Karl Sommer:" how much time do you need, Karl?"
Concerned neighbors are never asked that question.

To their credit, several neighbors protested the one minute limitation, including Rick Martinez. These people left their homes, waited quietly until they were permitted to speak on an issue that they had genuine concerns about. Surely many had never addressed council before and were not comfortable with public speaking. Too bad this one minute experience was less than it should have been.

karl hardy

One more time........there are approx 1000 illegal short term rentals in Santa Fe, and if they were back in the regular rental market, there would be little need for "infill" and the disruption of neighborhoods,

Bill Roth

Karl- you really need to stop conflating the rental market with the sales market- it does not serve your argument well... and in regards to those illegal short term rental units?... a large number of those units are east of st francis- a different real estate market with a different market share than west alameda...

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